In 1969, a duo called Zager and Evans performed a song that, if you listened to the lyrics, was a stone bummer. I remember the song quite well because, wow, I was so much in love and this apocalyptic song was a part of it. One year, at summer camp, I met this girl, she of the flame-red hair, oddly pale skin, green eyes and freckles – lots of them. I met her the first day of camp when everyone’s getting registered, kids are crying, parents are losing their minds and literally trying to break camp. At one point, you have to go over to the camp store and open your account, which allows you to buy goodies, camp-related stuff like village T-shirts, patches, and other cool stuff.
I’m in there with my mother, who’s at the counter handing over the $100 my godparents supplied for this summer at camp – a small fortune, all things considered. While she’s handling the business, I happened to look to my right… and there she was. Okay, this’ll sound corny but our eyes met and, all of a sudden, I felt dizzy and my legs turned into wet noodles; as she looked back at me, she actually gasped and turned an interesting shade of red before she regained her composure and smiled. I had gotten my shit together although my heart was beating rapidly when she came over, dazzled me with her smile and said, “Hi, I’m Chris!”
“Robby,” I said, taking the hand she offered and giving it a polite squeeze – then she really messed with my head.
“I think I’m in love with you,” she whispered, casting a glance back toward her parents who were discussing something with one of the store’s personnel. “What village are you in?”
“Sioux,” I said with a bit of pride, having “graduated” from the Iroquois village pre-teen guys were assigned to.
“I’m going to be in Ute,” she said, still peeking at her parents. “I love you and I’ll see you at assembly, okay?”
Duh. In the background, the song “In the Year 2525” was playing as I nodded stupidly. My heart was trying to do a 16-stroke drum roll and by the time my mother turned to tell me I was set and she was ready to head home, instead of me being more composed, I was even more confused – how could someone I just met be in love with me? Even better, how did I know she spoke the truth?
We’re not even going to talk about the fact that she was quite white and I was Black… in 1969, a year removed from the horrible riots that ensued when MLK was assassinated and racial tensions were still quite high. I’ll get back to this in a few.
This was one of those summers that was a bit fuzzy for me because I don’t remember a whole lot of things other than Chris pretty much being glued to me every chance we could be together. We had the same activities and at the same time – archery, rifle, and swimming and, yep, she was my buddy for this. I remember that we discovered we both lived in Wilmington and I was very familiar with the Alapocas development she lived in while, of course, I lived in the inner city – but that didn’t matter. We were in love with each other and I still hadn’t figured out the license plate number of the truck that hit me that first day.
During the first free-time period we had on day two of camp, Chris led me into the woods and I have to put it this way: I made love for the first time in my life. The funny thing was she was gonna teach me how to do it but, ah, well, let’s just say she was more than deliriously happy to discover that I knew of a lot of interesting things to do to her. Every free-time period we had was spent in “our place” in the dense camp woods doing stuff that would get us both sent home and maybe even barred from ever coming back to camp – but we didn’t care.
And at almost every turn, that song could be heard playing on a radio somewhere, even in my cabin – it was quite popular back in 1969 for a song that talked about man’s inhumanity to man and our eventual demise in the year 9595. But, we both agreed that it was our song and the summer progressed until, finally, it was time to go home. The night before, we had the traditional camp dance and party and while I had accomplished much in my activities – like earning my American Archer certificate as well as my Marksman certificate with the .22 long rifle; I had long since earned my Dolphin swimming rating – none of this stuff resonated with me. Chris and I danced and hung out with our other friends and they ribbed us unmercifully about us being a couple. The last song we danced to was, well, guess.
Man, talk about being mushy? The song isn’t exactly a slow song but not exactly a fast song either – but that didn’t matter; we danced slowly, our bodies as close as the camp staff was going to allow (but we cheated on this one), and we were both in tears as we swayed to the haunting music. When the song was over, we sneaked down to the beach and in a glorious rush of passion and desire, made love one last time at camp on the shore of the Chesapeake Bay, under a sky filled with stars.
It was more like several times and some really weird shit was going on inside my head. I would explode into her and she’d cling to me as her own body shuddered and that song was looping through my head the whole time we were on that beach…
Skip ahead to September 1969, my 15th birthday. I’m not sure how it happened but I recall walking into our house with Chris in tow to do the “meet the parent” thing. My maternal grandmother was there as well so Chris got to meet her and it went well, all things considered… until Chris went home (after we sneaked off somewhere to make love). My grandmother went ballistic on me, ranting and raving at me for not staying with my own kind and other “racial” stuff that was true back in the day for her – but not so much for me. It was an awful tongue-lashing and one I’m never going to forget because it went against everything I had learned up to that point.
Chris’ parents weren’t much better when I met them. Oh, they treated me like an honored guest when I met them and I was on my very best behavior but, when it was time for me to go home, her father took me to the side and said, “It was so nice to meet you and I can see why my daughter loves you… but don’t come back here again. It’s not personal – I like you and you’re a decent young man but, well, there are differences…”
And I never saw Chris again and while it hurt like a bitch, life went on. A few months later, I met the girl I’d eventually marry. Skip ahead a whole lot of years. I’m in downtown Wilmington for God only knows what reason and I’m waiting for the light to change when I hear a voice say, “Robby?” Okay, that brain thing: I hear a female voice and one I don’t instantly recognize and, outside of my friends and family, not many people know me by this particular diminutive so I’m wondering who this is. I turn toward the questioning voice and there’s this red-headed woman with a ton of freckles on her rather lovely face… and even as my mind is searching through the files to ID her, my body knows who she is: It’s Chris.
I don’t remember where I was supposed to go but I didn’t get there. We wound up at a restaurant, talking up a storm even as the food we’d ordered got cold and almost inedible. We talked about when we met and the bullshit that caused us to not see each other and how it affected us going forward. We were both married with children now – we did the picture thing and, well, we just talked about how we were each other’s first true love and, yeah, it touched me to see her blush over our, ah, free-time activities and especially that night on the beach.
She excused herself from the table and it gave me time to get my feelings under control. I knew I wasn’t still in love with her but I remembered it. She came back a few minutes later – she had called her husband and asked him to come to the restaurant to meet me and, as we waited, guess what song started playing? At first, I thought she arranged it but, no, she was just as floored as I was to hear “our song” and that brought back another flood of emotions and memories.
Her hubby arrived – he must have worked downtown – and you would have thought he was meeting the president or something ’cause he was awfully happy to meet me. First thing he said after we shook hands was, “I know you.” It took me a second to realize that Chris must have told him at some point and, oops, I felt myself blushing as he went on and on about always wanting to meet the guy who made such a difference in his wife’s life. It was a very weird reunion, to say the least.
All of this came to mind when I was reading blogs about songs that remind you of specific things in your life and, for some reason, this one popped into my head. I haven’t heard it since that last time I saw Chris but memory is a funny thing; I thought of the song and all the memories surrounding it and Chris came flooding back as well as the, ah, “racial” issues of that time, things that made me determined to never let a person’s race affect me like it did in 1969…